Deciding On and Conquering AP Exams

In high school, it’s important to decide whether or not you should take AP Classes and AP Exams.  You have to decide if you can handle the difficulty level of an AP course, determine if an AP course will hurt your GPA, and figure out how an AP Exam will affect your college career.  We’ve asked ourselves the same questions.  Here are some tips and information to help you decide if an AP Exam is the best choice for you.

What’s the difference between a regular high school class and an AP class?

AP classes are not your typical high school classes. These classes are designed for college students. Teachers will teach and treat AP students as if they are students in an introductory level course at a university. These classes will move at faster paces and go into more depth about the subject matters.

College Board, the same company which creates the SAT standardized tests, oversees 30 AP class subjects. High schools vary in the AP classes they offer. No matter what AP subject you end up taking, as an AP student, you will learn and be responsible for concepts that may not be covered in your regular high school classes.

In the beginning of May, upon completion of an AP class, you have the option of taking an AP exam for the class. AP exams will test your knowledge of the AP subject you’ve studied for the entire semester(s).

What does an AP exam do?

Upon completion of an AP class, you may choose to take an AP exam.  An AP exam is used to determine students’ understanding of the subject matter. All AP Exams are scored on a scale from 0-5, with 3 being a passing score. Most universities will take a 3 or higher scored AP exam and translate that exam into college credit. (The more prestigious universities require at least a 4.)

All AP exam scores are curved meaning that your score is relative to other test takers.

Well, taking the AP exams sounds hard! Why would I want to take them?

By taking (and passing) an AP exam, you get the benefit of not having to take the class in college.

What’s the benefit of not taking the class in college?

  1. You save time and get the opportunity to explore other more challenging classes that you may find more interesting
  2. You get to take a higher level class. For example, if you get AP credit for General Chemistry, you may proceed to take Organic Chemistry during your freshman year of college.
  3. Most universities will require you to take some introductory classes in certain subject matters regardless of your major in order to graduate. By placing out of the class with an AP exam, you may fulfill some of your graduation requirements.

What if I plan on taking a certain subject in college anyway? Why would I want to enroll in the class and take the exam?

Many college students who enter their freshman year with college credit ‘pick and choose’ which classes to take and which classes to place out of. Reasons may vary as to why some students will retake some classes. Keep in mind that colleges will never force you to place out of your classes.

Even if you’re planning on taking that subject in college, it’s still very beneficial to take an AP class and take the exam. In an AP class, you will get to know more about the subject matter that you simply won’t in the high school level class. Therefore, when you take the class in college, you will have gotten a “head start”. The material covered in the college class will overlap with what you have already learned and will seem familiar. You will have less new ideas to learn and you will need to spend less time on that class.

Furthermore, it’s simply nice to have the option of placing out of a class. You may come across unforeseen conflicts that might make placing out of a class more favorable than taking the class itself (i.e. scheduling difficulties).

AP classes seem difficult. I don’t want to ruin my GPA and risk not getting into my first choice college.

Yes, AP classes are difficult and more time consuming compared to regular, non-AP high school classes. However, in most schools, this increased difficulty leads to an increased GPA as well. AP grades are calculated on a higher scale.

For example, your high school calculates GPA on a 4.0 scale (A=4, B=3, etc.). With an AP class, an ‘A’ translates into a 5, a ‘B’ is a 4, etc.

Furthermore, colleges look at the courses that you take in high school. AP classes are demanding and colleges are aware of that. Colleges will take your course selection throughout high school into consideration during the admission process. Colleges like students who have continuously taken higher-level classes. It is an indication of students’ hard working natures and students who challenge themselves.

It’s expensive to take an AP exam.

The current fee for taking each AP exam is $87.00. The cost may vary depending on what high school you go to. Some high schools will subsidize the cost of AP exams.

The cost of the AP Statistic exam is $87. In comparison, the statistics (in most universities, statistics is worth three credits) would be $1125 at a state university and $3200 at a private university.

Let’s consider another slightly different situation:

The cost of the AP Biology exam is $87.00. Unlike statistics, biology is a two-semester class. Generally speaking, biology is worth six to eight credits (including laboratory). The cost of taking biology at a state university would start at $2250 and at $6400 at a private university.

$87 is a lot of money for each AP exam, but it is most definitely an investment.

Okay, I’ll think about it.

Definitely! Talk to your school counselor or your teachers if you have any questions or doubts about any AP classes and AP exams. Make sure you know your limits; colleges do not want you to overwhelm yourself with AP classes. Sign up for as many as you think you have time for and can do well in. You should also check your prospective colleges’ websites and see what their cutoff AP scores are and what subjects they take.

Take your time preparing for these tests. Although all of these AP exams are held in May, don’t procrastinate! Time management is essential to doing well in your classes and exams.

Lastly, enjoy your classes. Enjoy the experience and knowledge you will gain from the challenge. You will learn better study habits and time management skills that will help you in the future.


  1. Decide if you can handle the difficulty of an AP course—these classes are designed to be just like an introductory college class
  2. AP courses are graded on a higher scale and can greatly benefit your overall GPA
  3. Scoring well on the AP exams means you’ve earned college credit, depending on which school you ultimately choose to attend
  4. Taking and doing well on an AP Exam will save you money in college
  5. If you know some classes you plan on taking in college, enroll in an equivalent AP class in high school to get an excellent head start on the material

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